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[Obituary] John Lennard-Jones

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Pioneering gastroenterologist. He was born in Bristol, UK, on Jan 29, 1927, and died in Woodbridge, UK, on March 29, 2019, aged 92 years.

The skill and dedication of John Lennard-Jones contributed greatly to advances in the understanding and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). So says the charity Crohn's and Colitis UK in a statement on behalf of its patient membership. It's a view shared by doctors who have worked in gastroenterology. “He was a very skilled diagnostician”, says Michael Farthing, retired gastroenterologist and ex-Vice Chancellor of the University of Sussex in the UK. “He instilled confidence in his patients. And I never heard anyone ask for a second opinion after they'd seen John Lennard-Jones.” Another gastroenterologist, Christopher Williams, who worked before retirement at St Mark's Hospital in London, notes his intellect and describes Lennard-Jones affectionately as “an egg-head with a total command of the world literature…He was a walking reference base.”

Medicine was not Lennard-Jones's initial career choice. He enrolled at Cambridge University to study natural sciences, graduating in 1944 and contemplating an eventual career in farming. This aspiration, according to his son Andrew, was most likely engendered by a wartime enthusiasm for keeping rabbits and for growing food on his allotment. In the meantime, rather than join the armed services, Lennard-Jones went to work for the Medical Research Council (MRC) industrial medicine and burns unit in Birmingham. It was during this period that he put aside his agricultural dreams and opted instead for medicine. He returned to Cambridge. Distinguished physicians for whom he worked during his subsequent training years included Max Rosenheim, Douglas Black, and the gastroenterologist Francis Avery Jones at London's Central Middlesex Hospital.

Interviewed in 1997 for the journal Gut, Lennard-Jones recalled how he began accompanying Avery Jones on his weekly visits to an outpatient clinic held at St Mark's, a hospital specialising in bowel diseases. “There was no day-to-day medical gastroenterological care in the wards at St Mark's”, he recalled, “so in my spare time I voluntarily took over the care at a junior level for the next seven years”. Following a stint in research at University College Hospital (UCH), he returned to the Central Middlesex, where he became a member of the MRC's Gastroenterology Unit. Although appointed a consultant at UCH in 1965, he continued seeing patients at both his previous hospitals. He moved in 1974 to what was then the London Hospital Medical College, where, 3 years later, he was awarded a personal chair in gastroenterology. His final clinical appoint-ment was back at St Mark's as a professor emeritus.

Looking back over Lennard-Jones's career, Farthing talks of his skills as a physician, and of the role he had as one of the first gastroenterology specialists in the UK. Lennard-Jones, he adds, was also a good clinical investigator. Along with his collaborators, says Williams, “he published papers proving, for example, that locally applied steroids in combination with salazopyrin…really were effective in inflammatory disease”. As Farthing points out, “he pioneered some of the new treatments and also dispelled some myths. For instance, he showed that giving patients with ulcerative colitis long-term steroids to prevent relapse was a waste of time.”

Over the years, Lennard-Jones grew increasingly aware of the importance of good nutrition to patients with IBD. “His was one of the first centres to establish high-quality nutritional support teams”, says Farthing, “and he attracted a lot of patients with intestinal failure”. Lennard-Jones was also a pioneer in the introduction of home parenteral nutrition. “He could give patients the confidence and the know-how to go home with the kit and to manage the bags and rest of it themselves”, Williams explains. “This involved close work with the nursing team, and very rapidly the idea of nurse specialists having a major role [caught on].” Lennard-Jones was a natural choice to chair the King's Fund 1992 working party on the role of enteral and parenteral feeding in hospital and at home. Its report was highly influential.

Williams recalls what he describes as Lennard-Jones's “saintly” personality. “He attracted keen young would-be gastroenterologists from all over…He created a family atmosphere in the hospital.” Farthing describes Lennard-Jones as “A modest man who lived in a modest way. He had compassion and a huge sense of duty. He was a committed Christian who believed in the value of service [to others].” Lennard-Jones is survived by sons Andrew, a general practitioner, David, Peter, and Tim.

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